Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
During the football season many fans become “armchair quarterbacks” (though, “armchair coach” is probably more appropriate). That is to say, the fan becomes critical of how various plays are carried out by their team or decisions that are made by the coach. Soon the fan, with all of his or her knowledge of the game begins to think that they could probably do a better job than said coach. I’ve even heard a few guys, resting in their chairs comment, “I could do his job.” Well, I think that it’s quite possible that some fans could do the coach’s job- however; it’s the coach’s job, not theirs. What does any of that have to do with the Bible? Well, in the desert, the Levites and other Israelites were dissatisfied with their jobs and how things were being run, so they started looking at those in power. Let’s see what the Bible has to say to us when we’re starting to eye up someone else’s position.
By time we get to Numbers 16, the Israelites had been going through the desert, dying, complaining, being thirsty and wanting to go back to Egypt. All the while Moses and Aaron kept handing out new orders and new laws that they claimed were from God. And so we start in Numbers 16:1-3,
Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites- Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth- became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
Now, as I mentioned in a previous post (“This Job Sucks”) the Levites had pretty so-so jobs for being a Holy people set apart to the Lord. They were basically pack animals that couldn’t touch anything holy despite the fact that they were themselves considered to be holy; so one can understand them getting a little upset. But guys like Dathan and Abiram were angry too; because all of the people were subject to miraculous signs and wonders in the desert (God gave the people miracle food every day among other things). They felt that Moses was creating a dictatorship and using religion to control the people (something that still happens today in some countries). Moses though, was a man of God, and so he did the only thing he could think of when everyone was turning against him: “When Moses heard this, he fell facedown” (Numbers 16:4). …Um…that is to say, he prayed. While in prayer, the Lord gave Moses confidence and encouraged him to throw down the gauntlet (figuratively speaking) and present a Holy Challenge. Numbers 16:5-7 tells us,
Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near to him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put fire and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
This seems pretty simple. Everyone will prepare for service and whoever the Lord chooses will be allowed to do so. However, before we get too far in, I should probably note as an aside that God killed two of Aaron’s sons (both priests at the time) because of a misappropriation of incense. Don’t believe me? Check this out,
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2).
So by telling Korah and his followers to get censors and incense, really Moses was trying to tell them that by challenging him, the Israelites were playing a deadly game. Understandably, Moses was upset. But, it wasn’t because Moses felt he was being insulted, but he was angry with a holy rage because he thought that the Levites were spitting in God’s face. The Man of God let loose his frustrations in Numbers 16:8-11,
Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”
After berating Korah and the Levites, Moses turned to Dathan and gave him an earful too. Now I won’t go through all the details, but those wishing to unseat Moses set up their censers and met up with Moses and Aaron for the challenge. Scripture records how it played out,
Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense (Numbers 16:28-35).
So what are we supposed to get from this story? Well, you might actually be able to do someone else’s job. Korah noted in his speech against Moses that the whole assembly was holy and was being touched by God. It’s extremely likely that some of the people had gifts that matched or even exceeded Moses’. Take for example TV evangelists; there are many Christians out there who could probably do what they do. However, it’s the TV evangelist’s job, not yours (unless you’re a TV evangelist). In fact, you might even have gifts that match or exceed their own, for we all have gifts and God gives them in different proportions to each person. After all, we all have gifts according to Paul, who writes,
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
So Scripture asserts that you very well may be capable to do someone else’s job. However, as we learned from Korah’s uprising, if it’s not your job, it’s not your job.
There’s more though. After the incident with the censers and the ground opening up, Moses and the Lord sought to teach the people more about understanding one’s role. To this end we read,
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and get twelve staffs from them, one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes. Write the name of each man on his staff. On the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name, for there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral tribe. Place them in the Tent of Meeting in front of the Testimony, where I meet with you. The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites.
So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their leaders gave him twelve staffs, one for the leader of each of their ancestral tribes, and Aaron’s staff was among them. Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the Tent of the Testimony.
The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds (Numbers 17:1-8).
For the longest time I had trouble with understanding the symbolism that the Lord was trying to present in having Aaron’s staff bud, bloom, and bear nuts. One day the Holy Spirit explained that you can try to take another person’s position. However, the Lord has not only blessed us with gifts and the work we’re given, but God also designates who will bear fruit and who won’t for a given task. Take for example leadership positions. Truthfully, most people want to be in a position of leadership, however, only some people are really gifted as leaders, and those who are gifted will likely only bear fruit in the circumstances they’ve been called to. Therefore, although you may want to lead, and be gifted to lead, if you’re leading in the wrong place or trying to do more than God has called you to, then you won’t bear fruit. If you’re not bearing fruit, then you’re an ineffective leader, no matter how gifted in leadership you may be. Remaining in such a position doesn’t help you, nor does it help the Kingdom of God, which we should be striving to strengthen here on earth. Now that’s not to say that you should give up if you are having troubles in your calling, Jeremiah’s ministry was completely unsuccessful during his lifetime, but he was in constant contact with the Lord who kept cheering him on anyway. What God wants you to know is that you shouldn’t be chasing after positions that are outside of your personal calling, even if you feel that you could do them or maybe even deserve them.
I think Paul captured it best when he wrote,
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you- although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave (1 Corinthians 7:20-22).
Although most, when saved through Jesus’ blood, suddenly have the urge to sell everything and preach the gospel, it is wise to take a step back, and do what Moses did, pray. Because Paul recommends that everyone stay where they are when they’re first saved. After that, pray to God for some direction on where you should go and what you should do. The Holy Spirit will light up your gifts and send you in the right direction. Whenever you face any question though on where you are, follow Moses’ example, get down and pray. I mean, go look back at Numbers 16, as soon as Korah’s crew complained, Moses dropped down and started praying, and he didn’t even answer until God had told him what to do. Keep in mind that as Christians, we’re all part of one body. And, as Paul explains,
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
Each one of God’s called and chosen people has a purpose in life. That’s why before you came to Christ you probably felt completely lost in life and without any direction- because you didn’t have any. But all of those in Jesus Christ are a part of Jesus Christ. Now, most of us would probably like to have the notoriety (and pocketbook) of the TV evangelist, but Paul has an answer for that too. We read,
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (1 Corinthians 12:17-20).
The body doesn’t work without all of its parts. So don’t get down if you’re not in the place you were hoping God would put you. Y’know, if every armchair quarterback actually was a coach, there’d be no hardcore fans to keep the franchises running. The same is true in the church, you might not be out in front, but you do have a place in the Kingdom of God. Even if the job that God has called you to is one that nobody envies, you are essential to everything working right. For it is written,
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God had combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).
Don’t let your position get you down, brothers and sisters. The Lord has called each to his task, and to that task we should focus. If you don’t know what you’re called to do, pray and the Lord will tell you. And if you have no place within the Kingdom because you’re living a life without Christ in it, then please, for your sake, reach out to the Lord Jesus and his forgiveness. He will forgive and accept all that come to him, no matter what you’re past is like. For our Lord has a grand plan for everyone in his Kingdom, no matter if they’re the guy on the field, the guy in the locker room, or the guy in the stands. Everyone has a gift, and everyone has a mission. And if you’re in doubt about any of that, get out of your armchair and fall down on your face (in prayer) like Moses. Trust God, he’ll lead you where you need to go.